Minnesota Supreme Court Rules that Certain Voter Data Must Remain Private

In November 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Cilek v. Office of the Minn. Secretary of State, et al. The court considered whether the Secretary of State's office must release certain voter data to the public under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), including whether a voter's status is active, inactive, or challenged, the basis for any challenge to a voter's registration, and voting history. Both a state district court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the information must be released. The plaintiff in the case is the executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, which claims that Minnesota elections are plagued by widespread fraud and that the fraud skews in favor of DFL candidates.

On April 8, 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court published a 5-2 decision, reversing the Minnesota Court of Appeals and holding that the Secretary of State's office properly withheld the requested voter data. The majority ruled that a provision of the MGDPA, Minn. Stat. § 13.607, subd. 6, "clearly restricts access to registered voter lists to what is allowed by section 201.091. Subdivisions 4 and 5 of section 201.091 clearly give access only to Minnesota voters and then only to the information on the public information lists. Information not on the public information lists is not accessible, except to public officials for specified purposes."

Chief Justice Gildea wrote a dissenting opinion, offering two arguments rejecting the rationale offered by the majority. The first argument is that § 13.607, subd. 6, "is not about classification of data; it is about access to data," meaning that "it does nothing to change the public classification of the data at issue." The second argument within the dissenting opinion is that § 201.091, subd. 4, simply does not apply, because its scope is limited to a public information list and the plaintiff sought "data that is not part of a registered voter list or public information list."

More information about the case is available in stories published by the Star Tribune, MPR News, and The Associated Press.

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